Just about anyone who is familiar with developer Rare's music knows the name David Wise. He is the prolific composer who has crafted famous tracks such as Aquatic Ambience and Stickerbrush Symphony for the Donkey Kong Country series and sprinkled his unique flair for a variety of styles in subsequent Rare games including Diddy Kong Racing and Star Fox Adventures.
I was able to chat over email with David about some of his inspirations and how he worked on his most recent project: Snake Pass for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
You're usually known for working with Nintendo and its affiliated parties such as Retro Studios, Rare, and many of the same developers from that company at Playtonic Games. So how did you get in touch with Sumo Digital to make the music for Snake Pass? Did they come to you? And if so, did you have to work on Yooka-Laylee and Snake Pass simultaneously?
I only had a few tracks to do for Yooka-Laylee, so the bulk of my work was finished around a year before [its] release. It was Sumo who originally got in touch with me. Seb Liese, the main programmer who came up with the concept for [Snake Pass], happened to be a fan of the Donkey Kong Country series and, fortunately, the music that accompanies it.
What has been your inspiration for your music recently? I ask this because I sense a lot of the Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze kind of vibe in Snake Pass's soundtrack, especially with the flutes and breezy sounds of each world.
The brief for Snake Pass was for an Aztec/Native American feel. This involves a lot of organic instruments. So I directed most of my composition to use flutes, bamboo marimbas and shakers along with acoustic guitar. I also gave a nod to a previous Rare title called Snake Rattle and Roll, which was based on 50s rock and roll. However, when it came to the final production phase, I also had Richard Lewis work alongside me to arrange and mix the tracks. He also played some of the guitar parts for me too.
Did Cyn Derr's Realm [from Snake Pass] recall flashbacks of Scorch 'N' Torch [from Tropical Freeze] for you? And in the same sense, did Aquatic Ambience and other underwater tracks of yours come to mind to influence the soundtrack for Sog-Gee's Realm [Snake Pass]? Even Bloh Wee's Realm makes me think of your more ethereal work, including Stickerbrush Symphony.
You'll have to excuse my ignorance, but the track names are usually given after I've finished the compositions. This has always been the case. I think there are certain elements and styles, as composers, we bring to our work to evoke the feel we are trying to achieve.
What is your personal favorite song you composed for Snake Pass and why?
I think my favorite is the earth level [Bol-Dor's Realm] - as this was the original inspiration for the game - using the organic instruments made from wood, bamboo and [animal] skin.
What was your process for making a song for the game? Did they allow you to play with Noodle and explore areas, or did music come first? Do you visit different places to brainstorm or do you tinker in the studio until something feels right?
I played the game to get a feel for the rhythm of the movement. After that, I like to have videos of the gameplay running as I'm making the music.
What is your favorite song you have ever composed? Do you have a favorite total soundtrack?
My favorite changes all of the time, and in all honesty, it is usually the soundtrack I'm working on at that particular time.
How does it feel to be seen as somewhat of a legend in the gaming community? Your name is often one of the first to come up when people talk about fantastic video game music.
The gaming community as a whole are a great bunch of people who are incredibly passionate about their art and their gaming. I feel very blessed to work alongside many talented artists and to be held in high regard, which in turn, gives me the opportunity to carry on making music for such great products. I'm very thankful to be able to do what I love.
You probably can't say, but can you give us any hints as to what your next project[s] may be? If there were to be a sixth Donkey Kong Country game, would you want to compose the music for it?
You're right; I can't say what I'm working on. I wouldn't want to dilute the element of surprise for when a game is announced, which I still find are very magical moments for developers and gamers alike.
What do you want people to feel when they listen to your music? Is it a range of emotions no matter what, or is your focus having the gamer feel more connected to the game they're playing?
In all honesty, I really don't overthink things. As music and gaming are such personal experiences, I'm happy to enjoy the experience of developing music I think should work with a game, and hopefully this will translate to the player's experience.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians or other artists?
My advice would be to listen and learn and present your music in a very presentable and polished format. At that point, you need to connect and communicate with game developers, designers and artists. I would try and find a young company who are at a similar level who could really benefit from your skill set.
We at Gamnesia thank David Wise for the interview! You can learn more about David's work at his website, and you can grab Snake Pass on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Yooka-Laylee is also out for those the majority of those platforms, and it is also slated for release on the Nintendo Switch.